The tentacles in my food

I’m getting used to the little family of ants that lives in my laptop keyboard, the occasional cock-roach-a-saurus that needs smashing, and the tiny octopus’ in my fried rice. Though seafood was always a favorite back home in the states, I tend to avoid it out here in Thailand. It doesn’t result in the same kind of dish. Instead of scallops, there are fish meatballs made with ground fish and tapioca. Instead of crab meat, there is squid. I can eat squid, and do almost weekly…but those little purple octopus’…I just shove aside next to the dish of ignored chili peppers.
Don’t get me wrong, Thai food is incredible, but it is a bit strange as well. Most days I eat just rice or noodles, but somehow the people in Thailand have come up with the perfect recipes for “just rice” or “just noodles.” There’s always a little Kaffir lime to squeeze onto an otherwise ordinary plate of fried rice and the soups are swimming with delicious herbs: cilantro, basil and parsley to name the few I can identify.
Every day brings rice and noodles of some delicious variety, and occasionally that tentacled little creature I ignore to the best of my ability.
I’m also getting used to the lizards and snakes that share the road with us and make themselves seen from time to time. The long, green snake that hides up in the tree is my favorite.
But that is about as wild as it is here in Chiang Mai: tentacles in my food and snakes in the trees.  I look out to the smoke shrouded mountains and wonder what wildlife lurks there. My friends tell me it is the same as the wildlife that wakes us each morning here in the town at it’s foothills: roosters and wild dogs. Indeed it seems wilderness is getting more and more scarce, all the world over. The woman at the Elephant Kraal in Bangkok said that there are less than 500 elephants left in the wild here in Thailand and that the elephants of Thailand are becoming a domesticated animal: “dependent on us,” she said.
It made me sad to hear her say this and I didn’t want to believe her. But as I looked out my window this morning and saw a rooster standing in the street and a grid-work of towns surrounding those wild mountains, I knew that she is probably right. Sometimes our curiosity in the wilderness is what endangers it. This is something I think a lot about as I contribute to the influx of tourists in South East Asia. Maybe there are some things that are meant to stay curious, novel and wild.
That little green snake is my favorite because he peaks at me from inside a tree, where shadows cloak him in mystery. I like seeing some things from afar, if I’m meant to. I like a bit of theatrical distance, for the sake of wonder.  Get any closer to the mysterious, and it becomes a bit predictable.  For instance in Langkawi, Malaysia I watched the eagles circle around the mountain-top on which I stood, swimming on unseen currents in up and down spirals. I kept wishing that dark shadow of a bird would swoop in closer where I could catch all its regal details in my camera. The very next day I went to something called an “eagle feeding.” I wish I hadn’t. A man took us out on a boat to a part of the lake where park employees threw chicken meat into the lake, luring the eagles in to where tourists could photograph them.  This animal designed to work its clever eyes and its swift talons in a hunt for wild prey, was given the eagle’s equivalent of fast-food.
The event was sad and I regret contributing.
It turns out it is very hard to be a traveler instead of a tourist. Sometimes it means you see less, but I prefer it that way.  Sometimes it means you don’t go home with a perfect picture of an eagle, but at least the eagle has been respected and allowed to be as it was meant to be.

I have a wonderful picture of an eagle.  But I wish I didn’t.
I wish all I had was that dark shadowy spec floating above the mountain peaks.


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